Mapping the History of Ladakh’s Looms Through Murals

Shrey MauryaShrey Maurya

Shrey (she/her) holds a bachelor’s in Political Science from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, and a master’s in Visual Art from Ambedkar University, Delhi. She also holds a diploma in South Asian Painting from Jnanapravaha, Mumbai. Her research interests include miniature painting, Buddhist art, handloom textiles, as well as jewellery, perfume and cultures of adornment in the Indian subcontinent. At the MAP Academy, she manages the team, as well as all the content produced under the Encyclopedia of Art and its associated projects. She works from multiple locations.

Little is known about the historic origins of weaving in Ladakh, yet a handloom culture continues to thrive in the region even today. 

A mural serves as definite evidence that weaving was practised in the region as far back as the twelfth century. High in the hills, behind a village named Saspol in the Leh district of Ladakh, are the rock-cut Gon-Nila-Phuk Caves. Among the eighty-five mahasiddhas painted on the walls of one particular cave is the Mahasiddha Tantipa (weaver), seated at a type of foot loom. The white fabric he is weaving is most likely undyed wool, a commonly used material in the region. While the identity of the artist remains unknown, most scholars agree that the similarity in style indicates that the paintings were made by the same artists that worked on murals in the nearby Alchi Monastery.

Foot looms and backstrap looms continue to be used to this day. In the western and central villages of Ladakh, it is men who weave on foot looms that are easy to set up and dismantle, while women prepare the yarn. Among the nomadic communities, such as the Changpas, who roam the high-altitude plateaus in the eastern reaches of Ladakh, known as Changthang, both women and men weave on portable looms, although it is only women who use the backstrap loom


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